Saturday, October 23, 2010

Papal Infallibility Debate with William Albrecht

This past week I debated Mr. William Albrecht (Roman Catholic) on the subject of Papal Infallibility. The specific question was whether Vatican I was correct regarding papal infallibility. Naturally, I answered the question in the negative. Here's the video.

(link to mp3)

- TurretinFan

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who Cares about Historical Theology?

Jason Stellman has posted an article in which he says:
It seems to me that all this effort on the part of Catholics to prove that the fathers are on their team, and (especially) all the effort on the part of Protestants to demolish these claims, is beside the point and can be a distraction from the real issue, which is what the Bible actually teaches.
(link to article)

While I agree that what the Scriptures have to say about any subject is infinitely more important than what the fathers, or Calvin, or anyone else had to say about the subject, there's still importance in historical theology. Likewise, I agree that focus on what the fathers taught can be a distraction from the real issue, namely what Scripture teaches.

On the other hand, the study of what the fathers and the Reformers and others taught can be important. It can be important for several reasons.

1. One way to help Roman Catholics see that they are following a church that is lying to them is to expose Roman Catholics to the historical record. When we examine the historical record, we see that doctrines like the immaculate conception, transubstantiation, the bodily assumption of Mary, papal infallibility, and Purgatory are innovations, not doctrines handed from the apostles. Thus, the study of the patristic literature can serve as a tool for the evangelism of Roman Catholics, by helping to liberate them from the false gospel that requires their unjustified trust in Rome.

2. A second, defensive, use is also important. Frequently, Roman Catholics make claims that the core doctrines of the Reformation are themselves historical novelties. While, in principle, this doesn't matter to us (since Scripture, not history, is our rule of faith), these lies about the historical record can be discouraging to Christians. In particular, Roman apologists try to suggest to those unfamiliar with history that by following Reformed doctrine one is saying that "the whole church went off the rails almost from the earliest time," or something like that.

3. Historical theology is not our ultimate rule of faith, but it is a helpful guide. We do not believe that a universal apostasy happened or will ever happen, even if there are great falling away periods in church history. Moreover, we value the teaching of our spiritual ancestors, even those who made many mistakes. I suspect that Pastor Stellman realizes the value of historical theology, because I've noticed that his recent book, Dual Citizens, makes use of human authors. He does not rely exclusively on the Bible, nor should he!

I do think it is foolish to simply say "who cares," to the historical record. Sometimes we will simply have to disagree with the errors of our predecessors, but we should do so carefully, not recklessly.

Pastor Stellman writes:
Rather than get into a patristic prooftext war—especially if we may very well lose it—wouldn’t it be wiser to shift the locus of the battle to Scripture, the place where we claim to believe all controversies of religion are to be solved?
Well, of course, we've already won the battle on the grounds of Scripture. There may be a tiny handful of Roman Catholic apologists that think they can prove their doctrines from Scripture, but those folks are easily shown to be wrong.

The problem is that Rome has persuaded many people to accept an additional rule of faith - one that in effect supercedes Scripture. It is useful to help Roman Catholics see that this additional rule of faith is one that doesn't work, that cannot stand up to historical scrutiny, indeed one that is both established and maintained on lies and forgeries.

And don't worry, Pastor Stellman, we won't "lose" the analysis of the patristic writings, because we have nothing to lose. We're interested in the truth of what happened in the early church, not transforming the early church fathers into a PCA presbytery in Greece. We "win" simply by letting the fathers be the fathers, because history is our friend.

That means we admit that certain departures from the purity of the apostolic teachings happened very early, while other departures happened much later. Precisely because Scripture is our rule of faith, we cannot "lose" a battle over whether Bernard taught the immaculate conception (answer: he definitely did not) or whether Bernard taught the personal sinlessness of Mary (answer: it seems he did). In one case we can point out that Bernard's testimony is one voice among many against the idea the the dogma of the immaculate conception was really handed down in some kind of oral tradition format, in the other case we can acknowledge Bernard's mistake.

All that said, all the historical knowledge in the world won't save someone. One may be able to persuade a rational person that Rome is not who she claims to be, but unless that person trusts in Christ alone for salvation, they will be no better off in eternity. Mere knowledge of the truth is not enough.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trying Out Wordpress

I'm not really sure whether Blogger or Wordpress is a better blogging platform. In the short term, I'm going to continue blogging here and occasionally updating the Wordpress blog. Unsurprising the other blog is at

Feel free to use whichever you like, though most of my attention is on this blog for right now.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Response to Bill O'Reilly and Bill Maher

Recently, Bill Maher triumphed over Bill O'Reilly in an interview on Fox news (link to video). Why did Mr. Maher triumph? He triumphed because he exposed Mr. O'Reilly's inconsistencies.

Mr. Maher's first point was that 60% of Americans believe that the Noah's ark story is literally true. Mr. O'Reilly stated that he doesn't know any of those people. That doesn't surprise me - Mr. O'Reilly is a practicing Roman Catholic (link to his claim in that regard). Mr. O'Reilly, I'd love to meet you and let you know that yes, the Noah's ark story is literally true. The problem is not Mr. Maher's numbers, the problem is that Mr. Maher thinks it's not wise to believe that the historical account of a Noah's ark is an historical account. Yet there is abundant evidence of the flood - as Ken Ham would put it, there are billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth.

Mr. Maher's second point is to ask Mr. O'Reilly why, if God wrote the Bible, is there stuff in the Bible that is untrue. Mr. O'Reilly's response is to allege that it is allegorical. This is, of course, the wrong response. There is nothing in the text of Genesis that leads one to conclude the account of Noah's flood is allegorical. Instead, the account of Noah's flood is one of the clearly historical narratives. Mr. Maher makes a reference to the fact that both he and a lot of people agree that this account is literal.

Mr. Maher then asked whether the command about killing those who violate the sabbath is literal or parable. He seemed to mischaracterize it as "if you see your neighbor breaking the sabbath, you're suppose to kill him," but perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt that he just meant to refer to the fact that the law of Moses commanded death for sabbath-breakers. Sadly, Mr. O'Reilly's response is "I don't know that parable, is that Romans, Ecclesiastes, where did that come from?" Mr. Maher states that it is a law in Deuteronomy, and although keeping the Sabbath is mentioned in Deuteronomy, the specific death sentence for sabbath-breaking is found in Exodus:

Exodus 31:14-15
Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 35:2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.

In comments apparently recorded after the interview, Mr. O'Reilly corrected Mr. Maher's Deuteronomy-Exodus error, but during the interview Mr. O'Reilly's response was that as a Christian he doesn't care about the Old Testament, he's just interested in the New Testament.

Mr. Maher counters that it's still the Christian belief that the Old Testament was written by God. Mr. O'Reilly countered that, no, the Old Testament was written by prophets. Mr. Maher countered that it was nevertheless inspired by God, so how could it have errors or immoral teachings? Mr. O'Reilly countered that he doesn't know anyone who kills their neighbor over breaking the sabbath, a response that totally misses the point. Mr. Maher's mistake was in saying that capital punishment for sabbath-breaking is wrong.

Mr. O'Reilly tried to steer the conversation in his favor by suggesting that Jesus was a great moral example. Mr. Maher countered that if Jesus was in charge, America would probably have universal healthcare. Mr. O'Reilly countered that this would be possible because Jesus would multiply the loaves and the fishes.

Mr. Maher expressed complete incredulity at the idea of multiplying loaves and fishes. Mr. O'Reilly countered that if Mr. Maher wants to believe that life came from a meteorite crashing into the Earth, then he's free to believe that. Mr. O'Reilly further tried to score some points by suggesting that Mr. Maher is just as much a man of faith as himself is, only a different faith. Mr. Maher denied this.

After the clip from the interview, Mr. O'Reilly posted a correction regarding Exodus-Deuteronomy issue and alleged that in context it was God and not one's neighbors that would be taking care of killing those who broke the sabbath. Actually, however, the command was to the Israelites (as a government) to provide the death penalty for sabbath-breaking.

This is confirmed by the book of Numbers:

Numbers 15:32-36
And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

So, sadly O'Reilly was soundly beaten by Mr. Maher, but there are excellent answers that could have been given to Mr. Maher, had Mr. O'Reilly been more familiar with Scripture.